The antioxidants in blueberries may help slow the progression of dementia. {photo: Bigstock]

Blueberry supplement could help fight Alzheimer’s

4 April, 2016

Natural Health News — The blueberry, already labelled a ‘super fruit’ for its power to potentially lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, could also be another weapon in the war against Alzheimer’s disease.

New research presented at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) suggests the fruit is loaded with healthful antioxidants, and that these substances could help prevent the devastating effects of this increasingly common form of dementia.

“Our new findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults,” says Robert Krikorian, Ph.D., leader of the research team.

He adds that blueberries’ beneficial effects could be due to flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have been shown to improve animals’ cognition.

What you need to know

» Blueberries are rich in antioxidants that have been shown to aid the prevention of heart disease and cancer.

» New research suggests that these antioxidants may also help improve brain function in those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

» The two studies show that while blueberry powder improved brain function in those already suffering from MCI, it did not benefit those with minor memory loss issues.

Dementia on the rise

There are an estimated 46.8 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2015. This number will almost double every 20 years, reaching 74.7 million in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050 according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

In an effort to find ways to slow down this alarming trend, Krikorian and colleagues at University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center conducted two human studies to follow up on earlier clinical trials.

One involved 47 adults aged 68 and older, who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a risk condition for Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers gave them either freeze-dried blueberry powder, which is equivalent to a cup of berries, or a placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks.

“There was improvement in cognitive performance and brain function in those who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo,” Krikorian says. “The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts.” The team also conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which showed increased brain activity in those who ingested the blueberry powder.

Better as a treatment than a preventative?

The second study included 94 people aged 62 to 80, who were divided into four groups. The participants didn’t have objectively measured cognitive issues, but they subjectively felt their memories were declining. The groups received blueberry powder, fish oil, fish oil and powder or placebo.

“The results were not as robust as with the first study,” Krikorian explained. “Cognition was somewhat better for those with powder or fish oil separately, but there was little improvement with memory.” Also, fMRI results also were not as striking for those receiving blueberry powder. He says that the effect may have been smaller in this case because these participants had less severe issues when they entered the study.

Krikorian said the two studies indicate that blueberries may be more effective in treating patients with cognitive impairments, but may not show measurable benefit for those with minor memory issues or who have not yet developed cognitive problems.

In the future, the team plans to conduct a blueberry study with a younger group of people, aged 50 to 65. The group would include people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, such as those who are obese, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. This work could help the researchers determine if blueberries could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.